Working from home is one of life’s little luxuries brought to you courtesy of modern technology. Whether you work at home because you have a flexible (and kind) employer who let’s you save on commuting time and expenses, you work for yourself, or you simply have household paperwork or creative projects to do, working at home comes with its share of challenges. With some careful pre-planning and organizing strategies, you can have the best of both worlds: a productive work day in the comfort of your own home. Ready to get started?

Step 1: Create an Efficient Workspace

Whether you’re working at a desk in your family room, a dedicated home office or a shared creative studio for scrapbooking, simple strategies can make your physical work environment more productive. First … let’s head into your workspace and take a peek. Grab a clipboard, a notepad, some paper and a fresh set of eyes … then head into your work zone and look for the following:

Do you have the tools and equipment you need to get the job done? Here’s a list of some of the basics you may need to get your work done efficiently: telephone, computer, printer, Internet access, stapler, tape dispenser, scissors, paper clips, in-box, out-box, reference materials, good lighting, an adequate work surface, and a comfortable chair. A productive workspace also includes adequate storage for works-in-process, completed work, and reference materials like books, magazines, or the dictionary. Does your space have book shelves, file cabinets or project baskets? Use your pen and paper to jot down the essential tools and equipment you could invest in to make your workspace more productive.

Do you have the supplies you need to get the job done? You’ll be most efficient if you don’t have to get up and “borrow” things you need from another room in your home. Think of it this way, every time you get up and leave your workspace you introduce the opportunity for distractions. So let’s make a list of everything you need to do your work like pens, pencils, extra staples, extra tape, post-it notes, file folders and labels, paper, envelopes, stamps, checkbook, address labels, and so on. Then invest in a supply of these essentials and store them in, or close to, your work area.

Does your space have creature comforts and inspiration? Now that you’ve got the business basics taken care of … let’s make your space work for you by making it a place you want to spend time in. Here’s a list of basic creature comforts I can’t live without in my home office … lip balm, hand lotion, Kleenex, a space heater, water, gum, and music. What things would you pop-up out of your chair to retrieve from another room? Having these essentials close at hand will help keep you in your workspace and make you more productive.

Does your space reflect you? You’ll be most comfortable (and most apt to want to spend time) in a work area that reflects your sense of style. For me, one of the biggest benefits of working at home was being able to infuse my space with things that are “me.” I left the company issued plastic, burgundy in-boxes at my corporate office (thank you very much) and replaced them with a ceramic tray from a day at an art fair with my Mom. How fun to mix function with inspiration. Since I’d rather look at the beautiful ceramic tray than the stacks of paper in my in-box, I’m even more motivated to get through my in-box every day. (Now … if only someone could come up with a similar strategy for my email in-box.)

Does your space inspire you? Pull out your “ceramic tray” and use it as an in-box. Hang medals, plaques, trophies, or your diploma on the wall. Create a victory board or an area to show-off your completed works. When you’re faced with a mound of work or a project that just isn’t fun … seeing evidence of your past victories is a huge motivator. Another source of inspiration is a goals board, where you can tack-up visual reminders of your business and personal goals. Reminding yourself what you’re working towards will help keep you focused while you’re in your workspace.

Take your list and notes and develop an action plan. What things does your workspace need to help you stay focused and productive? Inspired and motivated? Prioritize the items on your list and gradually bring new things into your workspace for added function and inspiration.

Aby's organized office

Step 2: Reduce distractions

So you’ve set up a very comfortable and efficient workspace. (Or you’re in the midst of the process, right?) You’re creating a place you want to spend time because it reflects your style. You rarely need to leave your workspace because it has all the essentials to get your job done. Things are headed in the right direction … but you’re still working at home, an environment rich with distractions and interruptions. And these interruptions can be a real productivity zapper. According to a 2001 study conducted by the University of Michigan, worker productivity decreases by 20% to 40% as a result of “task switching.” Guess what? Interruptions cause you to switch tasks midstream, dramatically reducing our productivity. So let’s head back into your work zone and look for sources of interruption and better yet, solutions to eliminate them. Grab your clipboard and note the following:

Do you have a way to isolate yourself and focus on your work? If you have a dedicated office area with a door, you can easily create a physical block between your work zone and your family / relaxation / other life zones. On the other hand, if your workspace isn’t a dedicated workspace, a door may not do the trick. You’ll need to get more creative.

What do you see when you’re in your workspace that could distract you? Ideally, you’ll only see the work you want to work on rather than other things that need your attention. For example, if you can see a disorganized home, laundry that needs tending to, a notification icon letting you know email is waiting in your in-box, or the latest issue of Domino Magazine sitting on your desk … you’re inviting distraction. Do whatever it takes to block-off these visual distractions by adding a curtain or folding screen to separate your work zone from other areas in your office. Or position your desk so you can only see work “stuff” when you’re working. Consider using closed storage systems to keep business projects and personal projects separate. Keep your desk surface clear of personal projects or hobbies that may tug you away from the work you’re trying to get done.

What can you hear when you’re in your workspace that could distract you? Be aware of sounds that lure you away from your work, such as the buzz of the washing machine or dryer, ringing phones, or the worst culprit of all, the ding of a new email in your in-box. (Eeeks!) Turn off the phone, dryer and email notification until after you’re done working.

The last type of distraction is the kind we bring on ourselves … mental clutter. If you’re like me, your thoughts aren’t always in sync with what you’re working on. If random thoughts, to-dos and ideas pop into your head while you’re working on something else, resist the temptation to get up and handle them on the spot … no matter how pressing they are. Instead, just jot your thoughts down on a “distractions pad” as soon as they come to mind. Then quickly get back to work. After a little while, your brain will get in sync with what you’re working on and your internal distractions will go away.

Step 3: Set boundaries with your time

One of the great benefits of working at home is the flexibility to use your time as it suits you. If you’re a night owl, you can work at night. If you’re sluggish in the afternoon, you can catch a catnap and recharge for an energized late afternoon work session. However, it’s very important when you work from home that you carve out times for each area of your life. Because of the convenience of a home office, the lines can often get blurred causing you to never fully engage in either area of your life. Chart your time and allocate specific blocks of time to the different areas of your life. Here’s how.

First make a list of the hours you’re awake during the day. Then, allocate your time to the different activities and areas of your life such as business and career, family time and parenting, personal growth and development, recreation and hobbies, finances, health and fitness, community involvement, spiritual development and recurring tasks and chores — like errands and grocery shopping.

When you put together your time chart, think about your natural moods and energy levels. If you’re highly creative in the morning, it makes sense to schedule your creative tasks in the morning. If you’re sluggish in the afternoon, schedule fitness or exercise during that time to serve as a natural pick-me-up. Decide which days of the week and hours of the day you will answer your business telephone. Will you answer your personal telephone during work hours? Remember, your goal is to establish crisp lines between personal / relaxation time and business / work time.

Once you decide when you’re going to go to work, really act as if you’re going to work, even if you’re just walking across the bedroom to your work desk. Many lament about the bliss of working from home in their pajamas and slippers. This is a fabulous perk IF you feel productive when you wear your pajamas and slippers. If, on the other hand, wearing PJs and slippers tells you it’s time to kick back, relax, net surf or do something else completely unrelated to WORK … well then, get dressed like you’re leaving your home and heading into the office. OK?

Last but not least, make sure your social needs are met when you work at home. If you thrive on the interaction of an office environment, carve out people time on your time chart. You could have lunch with friends several times a week, work out at the gym during your natural energy lows, or do a mini-commute once in a while to a nearby park, library or coffee shop. The change in scenery could spark your creative juices and help you to be even more productive than usual!

Alright, you now have all sorts of ideas to create a work environment and work habits to make you more productive. Remember to implement changes one at a time. Little by little you’ll bring about change and see real improvements in how much you’re getting done … all in the comfort of your own home!

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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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